Monday, March 5
10:15 AM-11:15 AM
William Barton

Inquiry-based Lessons and PhET Simulations - A great match for Middle School Classrooms

Roundtable ID: 35144
  1. aaa
    Elyse Zimmer
    UTeach Outreach

Abstract: How can simulations combined with an inquiry model of teaching be effective in maximizing students’ learning and understanding of challenging concepts? PhET simulations are interactive research-based simulations of physical phenomena that are free and available on the Internet (see Part I of the workshop is an introduction to PhET simulations and Part II is the presentation of two inquiry-based lessons. During the presentation of the lessons, the inquiry teaching model will be discussed and emphasis will be placed on how the model is an effective tool in the classroom resulting in increased student engagement. Inquiry-based lesson plans and supplemental teacher materials will be supplied. The target audience for the workshop is anyone wishing to create learning experiences for middle school students following the inquiry model accompanied by simulations. The content covered in the workshop is aligned with the Physical Science National Standards.


1. Participants will manipulate PhET simulations. 2. Participants will acquire inquiry-based lesson plans and supplemental teacher materials aligned with National Standards. 3. Participants will be introduced to PhET simulations and how they can contribute to a meaningful learning experience for students. 4. Participants will explore the inquiry-based learning model by acting as students in two inquiry-based lessons. 5. Participants will critique the effectiveness of using simulations in an inquiry-based learning model. 6. Participants will engage in a discussion led by the instructor of the inquiry-based learning model.

Topical Outline

1. Participants will be introduced to PhET simulations. a) What PhET simulations are and where they can be found. b) How simulations relate to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills and National Standards. b) How simulations can be used in an inquiry-based learning model. 2. Participants will explore the inquiry-based learning model by acting as students in lesson one. a) View a demonstration that engages all participants. b) Introduction to a testable question. c) Participants complete an investigation that answers the testable question. d) Conversation led by the instructor of the 5E inquiry learning model and its relation to the investigation the participants just completed. e) Explanation of the content covered led by the participants and guided by the instructor in the investigation and how the content relates to TEKS/National Standards. f) View a demonstration that elaborates on the investigation just seen. 3. Participants will explore the inquiry-based learning model by acting as students in lesson two. a) Repeat a-f from Part 2 with lesson two. 4. Participants will critique the effectiveness of simulations within a learning experience. a) Participants provide both verbal and written feedback to instructor.


The workshop is intended for anyone wishing to create lesson plans and learning experiences for students that will maximize student results. The two lesson examples target Middle School science teachers. No prior experience with using simulations is necessary.

Experience Level



Instructor 1: Honors and Recognition: Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science, National Science Foundation; HEB Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Teaching; Texas Outstanding Science Educator, Texas Academy of Scientists; Education Leadership: National Association of Presidential Awardees Symposium: Panel Member; Texas Education Commissioner’s Educator Leadership Council: Member; Science Education from the Classroom to the Capitol: American Association for Advancement of Science, Washington, DC; Classroom Teaching Experience: Middle School Mathematics (7 years); Middle School All Subjects (10 years); Elementary School Mathematics and Science (10 years); District Level Experience: Elementary Science Support and Instructional Specialist (2 years); Middle School Mathematics Instructional Specialist (1 year); Presentations: Demonstration Lessons: Southwest Center for Accelerated Schools, Powerful Learning Institute; Hot Science, Cool Talks Lecture Series, UT Austin; Participant and Presenter; Institute for Earth Science with Chemistry Connections for Elementary Teachers; Inquiring About Light: Addressing the Gap, AISD’s Science Inquiry Academy Training; Mentoring Austin Educators for Success with Technology as a Regular Occurrence – Summer Training; Elementary Principals Summer Institute - Best Practices in Science; Texas Powerful Learning Laboratory – Best Practices in Mathematics and Science; Instructor 2: Education: Ph.D. in Physics, UT Austin; M.S. in Computational and Applied Mathematics, UT Austin; Teaching Experience: UT Center for Inquiry in Math & Science, Assistant Instructor (1 year); UT Austin Dept. of Physics, Assistant Instructor (1 year); UT Austin School of Geological Sciences, Outreach Fellow (1 year); UT Austin Math, Physics, & UTeach, T.A. & Outeach (5 years); Honors and Recognition: GK-12 Fellow, University of Texas at Austin; Lord Rothmere Scholar Dean’s List, Oxford University.
No presider for this session.


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